Summary: What is at the heart and core of Pentecost? It is the message of Jesus crucified and risen for the salvation of the world.
6.9.19 Pentecost Sunday - John 15:26-27
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also are going to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
A few weeks ago I tore the old railing off of my deck. It just so happened that one of my children decided to have some of his friends over on Saturday night. So the timing worked well to have a bonfire with the railing that was going to get thrown out anyway. It wasn’t too long into the night and I noticed that the fire was beyond a nice little campfire. Being the teenagers that they were, they decided to throw all of the wood on at once. They weren’t doing it because they were cold. They were doing it because it looked cool. I had to go running out there to tell them to back off the wood before the fire department came.
This seems to be a good illustration for the way we should approach Pentecost. Do we become enamored with the fire and the flame of it? Or do we appreciate the flame not for the looks of it, but the warmth of it? God doesn’t want us to be pyromaniacs. He wants us to use the flame of the Holy Spirit to be warmed with the salvation and forgiveness of Jesus, and NOT to be enamored with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is to point us to Jesus and focus on him, as a flame can give us warmth in a gentle manner without blazing out of control. How do we know this? This is what Jesus said in the Gospel for today. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me.”
So we see that the Pentecost story quickly turns from the LITTLE flames of fire to the words and speech of the disciples. It would appear that the flames do not remain visible over the heads of the disciples, because they are never mentioned once the people get there to listen. Instead, the language is what draws the attention of the hearers instead of the flames or the sound of the wind. The attraction of Pentecost, the miracle of Pentecost, then comes through the words that are actually spoken and the content of those words, not the flames of fire, the sound of the wind, or even the language of the words.
Focus on Jesus through the Fire
But let’s talk about the language for a moment. Language is important! Communication is key! When there is a lack of communication, it easily leads to suspicion and division. I used to work with a deaf man in Topeka. He was constantly feeling left out and suspicious because people would speak with each other right in front of him and they didn’t know what they were saying. He would get angry and assume that they were talking about him when they weren’t. It took constant effort to try and assure him that such was not the case. But because he couldn’t hear, he assumed the worst. It was not easy to deal with. Think of when you walk by someone in the store talking a different language. If you see them laughing it makes you wonder, “Are they talking about me?” Even when husbands and wives are trying to communicate there can be difficulties. One might speak more through emotions and innuendo while the other likes to use plain words. He wants to hear “I love you” through actions and she wants to hear it through words. We don’t always communicate the same, and it causes hurt and pain.
We can see from the Old Testament lesson, the story of the Tower of Babel, where this confusion of languages came from in the first place. It came from the direct intervention of God who actually CAUSED their languages to be confused. He wanted there to be this chaos of communication. The people had come together and coordinated to build a great tower up to the heavens. They were going to make a great and mighty city. They wanted to make a name FOR THEMSELVES, and this after God had just told them to FILL the earth. God carefully examined the situation and said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” It would appear that God didn’t want them to succeed. He wanted them to fail. Their potential was too great.
Why would God WANT them to fail? If people were so self sufficient and so successful in building a home for themselves HERE on earth, then they wouldn’t see the need to have a home THERE in heaven. They would be filled with pride and self fulfillment. If people could make their lives so comfortable on earth, then they wouldn’t ever want to leave it. They would see no reason to pray. They wouldn’t seek a heavenly peace because they would have peace in the here and now. They wouldn’t see their need for a Savior, and they would comfortably slide into hell. It is as Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Amen I tell you: It will be very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” So instead of tearing down their tower, God simply changed their languages and caused the tower to fall all on its own, through a division on the inside. God caused this confusion of tongues, this Babel, which Martin Luther said was in some ways worse than the Flood with all of the mistrust and wars that it has brought.